Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Board should look at big picture with little schools

I read out the following letter during the public comment period at the ACSD School Board meeting on Feb. 10 in Cornwall.
My wife and I, and our three year old son moved to Ripton about a year and a half ago. We were fortunate enough to be able to build a small house and in the process transform our construction costs into revenue for carpenters, well drillers, and a few other trades people. This is the type of story that Vermont and this district needs more of, not because of who I am or who my family is, but because of the small economic engine we represent.
Standing on our property the Ripton Elementary School is a short, but steep walk away. A little over a year after moving in I now am contemplating a changing reality for my child’s schooling and my property, the reality that the nearby Ripton Elementary School may be closed by this board. In the past year and a half I have come to a number of school board meetings and before I go any further I would like to say that I do not think being on a school board is easy. I appreciate the members of this board, I believe you are trying to do what you think is right.
This board has power that used to rest separately with the district’s towns. I think it is important to recognize this fact and the ramifications of this. This board has the power, with little input from a town, to close a school such as the one in Ripton, which the town built and supported for years with their own funding before mergers or consolidation. Some appear inclined to downplay this shift in power and chalk concerns up to what they refer to as tribalism. Unfortunately, I take issue with this approach and language. I think the correct word that should be used, if you are referring to a healthy and functioning town, one that looks out for itself and the people within it, and welcomes newcomers like myself and my family in, is a sense of community and not tribalism.
It is also important to mention the petition that was signed by over 800 people and presented recently to this board. The petition asked the board to call for a district-wide vote to decide whether the language in the district charter surrounding closing schools should be changed. In spite of the fact that the petition was in some cases signed by more voters than some members of the board may have been elected by, the board choose to not call for such a vote. The board had a legal recommendation that they could do this. I don’t agree with the decision and I feel strongly that what may be legal is not always right.
The rejection of the petition solidified the reality that the onus, a very appropriate word I recently read in a newspaper article about school matters, now rests heavily and squarely upon this board. So what if the board has the power a town used to or decides not to warn a vote, why does this matter?
The reason why these things matter is because if the board hopes to develop and grow ACSD into a successful union they must do so in a way that parents from all of the towns feel, and can believe, they have the opportunity to have a voice, and that their children receive the best education this district can realistically provide with the resources we all share. I hope the board fully shoulders the gravity of the decisions that lie ahead and that they are willing to honestly contemplate them. I say this not only for myself and my son, but also for all the other parents and their children who will attend this district in the years to come.
The decision this board makes will impact not only my child’s education but also my town, for better or worse. If this process is done carelessly or without honest thought it can, and in some ways already has, begun to pit towns against one another as they squabble over who is to blame for which lack of resources. It also may leave some towns with little to glue their community together. Neither of these outcomes is going to make young families want to move here.
In closing I want to say two things. The first is that I am certain that the best answers to this situation are not going to come from architects, engineers, and representatives from commercial construction outfits. The best answers to the situations we face are going to come from people here, who know the problems first hand, people like the educators and staff who teach and help the children in these schools, not people who clearly and only have a stake in buildings and fixing buildings.
The last thing I’ll say, or rather ask and leave the board to contemplate is, how are your decisions going to improve the educational outcomes for the students of this district, including my son? I look forward to hearing about this in addition to all the discussion about taxation, finances, and buildings that we have talked in length about already.
Steve Cash
Ripton

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